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Mostly MLB Notes: Buying Early Season Breakouts

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Gonzalez is heating up (USAT)

Adrian Gonzalez has been one of the hottest hitters in baseball of late, raising his batting average 34 points over the past three games (adding two homers and seven RBI over that time as well). He’s scored just 17 runs on the year despite a .395 OBP, and that’s with him crossing the plate six times over the past three contests. But Gonzalez does have 37 RBI, and his counting stats should only improve once Matt Kemp starts playing better (one can only assume this will eventually happen). Even after his latest power barrage, Gonzalez’s six homers are pretty modest, especially for a first baseman, although it’s worth mentioning his 0.88 GB/FB ratio is the second lowest of his career. Still, it appears he’s not going to return to his 40-homer days any time soon, but his healthy 25.7 LD% combined with a career low 12.4 K% suggest he’ll remain a major asset in batting average. Over the last four seasons (including this one), Gonzo is hitting .331 against left-handed pitchers, although that’s come with just 17 homers over 706 at-bats. For someone who won’t help you in stolen bases or runs scored (he’s recorded 29 runs over 308 at-bats since joining the Dodgers), Gonzalez’s lack of power prevents him from returning to elite fantasy territory. Still, the batting average is a big help, especially since it’s down league wide this season (the average BA in the National League is .249), and Gonzalez’s value also gets a boost when you consider how many first basemen have been busts so far in 2013.

Here’s a crazy hurdle over a catcher.

Miguel Cabrera gets the Yu Darvish GIF treatment.

Mark Reynolds entered 2013 having batted .213 over his previous three seasons. However, he also averaged 30.6 home runs over that span while averaging just 496.6 at-bats (he also clubbed 44 homers the year prior), so he’s basically been the antithesis of Adrian Gonzalez. However, Reynolds has been one of the most pleasant surprises so far in 2013, hitting .259 with 12 homers and 40 RBI. By now we know the drill with him, as he holds three of the top-five seasons in MLB history when it comes to strikeouts (and four of the top-10). While still bad, Reynolds’ current 26.5 K% is a career low, and since strikeout rates tend to stabilize around 150 plate appearances, maybe there’s something to this, as hitting .260 is a massive difference than .210. To wit, even after a recent slump, Reynolds ranks as the 11th most valuable fantasy player this season according to Baseball Monster, and that’s not even factoring in his third base eligibility. Progressive Field has actually suppressed home runs for RHB more than all other parks aside from Safeco Field and PNC Park over the past three years, so the dozen dingers are all the more impressive. In fact, his six “No Doubt” homers are tied with Jose Bautista for the most in all of baseball. And while his home environment may not be ideal, hitting in Cleveland’s lineup helps, as the Indians have scored the fourth-most runs in MLB. They’ve admittedly played an easy schedule, but the team’s 113 wRC+ leads baseball, if you’re into that sort of thing. Reynolds isn’t likely to finish as a top-12 fantasy asset, but with the strikeouts down and the power being real, he’s not someone I’d be willingly trying to sell high either.

This is one of my favorite stories in a while. From the terrific lede (“A man whose wife bit him on the genitals after an argument after a rodeo says his only regret is calling 911 on her”) to the fact they are living with the ex-husband to the proclamation that when the man normally assaults his wife, the police aren’t involved. Just pure gold.

Speaking of gold, here’s Kevin Bania making an amazing world record jump. One can only assume he’s Kenny’s brother.

Everth Cabrera wasn’t exactly a secret at draft tables this year after leading the National League with 44 steals in fewer than 400 at-bats in 2012, but he also didn’t cost a high pick. He currently leads MLB with 19 swipes and now owns a career SB success rate of 81.9%. Thanks to a solid 10.5 BB% and an improved 18.4 K%, Cabrera’s sporting a .351 OBP, so he’s now locked in as San Diego’s leadoff hitter. The four early homers look like a fluke, but with his speed and a 3.40 GB/FB ratio combined with a 25.2 LD%, his current .320 BABIP seems low and likely to rise moving forward. Playing an extremely thin shortstop position (right now in the Yahoo! ranks, the No. 4 SS is Jhonny Peralta. No. 6 is Brandon Crawford, who ranks 153rd overall), and with stolen bases way down league wide this season, Cabrera is a highly valuable fantasy commodity. If a draft were held today, he might even be worth a third or fourth round pick. Cabrera is essentially what we hoped Elvis Andrus would become.

April Fools on a school bus.

Wow this call was horrible.

Speaking of middle infielders who were undervalued on draft day, Kelly Johnson has been an absolute steal for fantasy owners (and the Rays) this season, as he’s posted a .296/.358/.570 line with 10 homers, 32 RBI and five steals. His ISO is a whopping .275. Here are Johnson’s batting averages since 2008: .287, .224, .284, .222, .225 and .296. It’s tough to say this year’s version will last when it comes to such a fluctuating stat, but if you want to dig deep, his O-Swing% (23.5) is well down from his last two seasons (31.1 and 32.7), as is his SwStr% (9.1 compared to 12.9 and 13.3), so at least there are encouraging aspects to his 2013 plate discipline. Johnson is slugging .660 and has 10 home runs over just 97 at-bats against right-handers this season, and it simply has to be acknowledged that Tampa Bay has an uncanny ability to get better performances from their players compared to other organizations. It can’t be quantified, and it doesn’t work with every player they bring in, but with Johnson joining James Loney as the team’s latest examples (and considering B.J. Upton’s production since leaving TB), this factor needs to at least be considered when trying to figure out how real the second baseman’s terrific start is. Like Mark Reynolds and Everth Cabrera, I’m buying Johnson’s start to the 2013 season.

Song of the Week: “King’s Crossing” by Elliott Smith.

Police Blotter: Man accidentally calls 911 and reveals murder plotMom has son arrested for stealing her Pop-TartsCouple stabbed each other over “American Idol.

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Alex Cobb breaking out (USAT)

Another player excelling with the Rays this season is Alex Cobb, who’s currently sporting a 2.66 ERA and 1.06 WHIP with a 62:14 K:BB ratio over 67.2 innings. He posted strong numbers throughout his minor league career, but they also weren’t overly gaudy (8.0 K/9), and he opened his major league career by posting an entirely mediocre 143:61 K:BB ratio over 189.0 innings before entering this season. But he’s carried over a dominant spring training into the regular season in 2013, looking like a completely different pitcher capable of being an ace. Cobb’s fastball isn’t overpowering (he’s averaged 90.5 mph this year), but his changeup is plus, and there’s a whole lot to like about a pitcher with a 22.8 K%, a 5.2 BB% and a 56.0 GB% (there isn’t a starter in baseball who’s been better at all three of those specific stats this season). Cobb has been both lucky (his 86.3 LOB% is the second highest in MLB, and eight of his nine homers allowed have come with the bases empty) and unlucky (his HR/FB% is 20.0). It’s not easy to give up nine homers over 67.2 innings with such a strong K% and a 2.38 GB/FB ratio, so in that aspect, expect some regression moving forward. Cobb became the first pitcher in the history of baseball to record 13 strikeouts in fewer than five innings during a start earlier this season, and he benefits from playing in front of a strong defense. Moreover, only Safeco Field and AT&T Park have suppressed runs more than Tropicana Field over the last three years, which helps counter having to pitch in the AL East. Cobb looks like the real deal.

Water Skiing is too easy for this boss hog.

Here’s a horse biting a jockey mid-race (h/t Chris Liss).

Apparently I’ve been playing Monopoly wrong all this time.

Quick Hits – catcher edition: Over his first seven seasons in the league, Yadier Molina batted .268. Since 2011, he’s batting .316. He’s done so while playing the toughest defensive position and as one of the slower runners in the game…Jason Castro has raised his OPS nearly 150 points over the past 10 days, and suddenly, the 25-year-old is hitting .284/.335/.475 and batting third in Houston’s lineup. The former top-10 pick is on the fantasy radar even in shallow leagues, as he’s been the 11th most valuable catcher so far (and I’d prefer him over Cs ranked higher like John Buck ROS. And Evan Gattis is facing playing time issues as well). J.P. Arencibia somehow has been more valuable despite a 59:3 K:BB ratio, thanks to 12 homers and 28 RBI. He has a .262 OBP and a .503 SLG. Again, 59:3!…Joe Mauer’s home run off Tom Gorzelanny on Monday was just his second off a left-hander since 2010. Mauer has broken up three no-hitters in the ninth inning during his career. That’s pretty crazy…There have been 159 runners on base during Victor Martinez’s plate appearances this season, which is the eighth most in all of baseball. Despite this, he’s been the 25th most valuable fantasy catcher in Yahoo! leagues, coming in at 781 overall and behind other backstops like Chris Stewart and Erik Kratz. In other words, VMart has been a bit of a disappointment.

It appears the ref didn’t appreciate this soccer player’s celebration after a goal.

There have been 23 perfect games in MLB history, and this 1-year-old has witnessed two of them.

Longread of the week: This isn’t really a long read, but here’s an interesting article about how the Cubs are underperforming based purely on sequencing.

Quick Hits Part Deux: Edwin Encarnacion is batting .255. He’s also on pace to finish with 137 RBI. Michael Young has a higher on-base percentage (.350) than he does slugging percentage (.341). John Lackey has a K:BB ratio of 3.6, and Josh Donaldson currently sports a .324/.397/.553 line and is on pace to finish with 25 homers, 84 runs scored and 103 RBI. If you combine last year’s Cliff Lee with this season’s Cole Hamels, you get a 7-17 record. Matt Moore has a 4.13 BB/9 ratio and is 8-0. James Loney leads MLB with a 30.7 LD%. Baseball is a crazy sport...Believe me, I’m the first one to point out Ricky Nolasco’s peripherals won’t match his ERA, as I was a sucker for him for years, and the fact he pitches for the Marlins severely hurts his chances at wins, but he’s been interesting enough to mention here. Over his last eight starts, he’s recorded a 47:8 K:BB ratio, and he now has a 1.14 WHIP on the year. Nolasco has burned fantasy owners way too many times in the past to get excited, but I will say he’s worth adding in deeper leagues right now, but maybe I’m a masochist…The Twins’ starting pitchers have combined for 122 strikeouts this season. Yu Darvish has 105…I’m obviously biased as a Giants fan, but their game against the Rockies on Saturday was one of the craziest in recent memory. It featured two absolutely horrendous blown calls by the home plate umpire, and then after me going crazy complaining why Sergio Romo didn’t pitch in the ninth inning (there wasn’t even a save opportunity remaining for the home team), he proceeded to give up a homer in the 10th, and finally, this happened. The Giants’ seven walk-off home runs this year are the most in baseball…The A’s are 9-0 against the Astros this season, with a +29 run differential. Speaking of which, math is hard.

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